Kevin McCarthy was three votes shy of securing the speaker’s gavel Friday afternoon, the fourth day of voting, after flipping 14 of 20 Republicans who previously opposed him.
That number would drop to two if the McCarthy supporters who were absent Friday afternoon, Ken Buck of Colorado and Wesley Hunt of Texas, return to vote later on Friday evening when the chamber will reconvene.
While McCarthy’s vote total crept up significantly Friday, lawmakers still formally rejected his candidacy for the 13th time in four days. After that 13th ballot, the House voted 220-212 to adjourn until 10 p.m. McCarthy told reporters that when the chamber reconvenes, he’ll have enough votes to be elected.
The movement came after the California Republican provided a written offer to holdouts Thursday evening committing to House rule changes, spending constraints, diversifying committee assignments and holding floor votes on key conservative priorities, like term limits and a balanced budget.
Five of the remaining six GOP holdouts — Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Virginia Republican Bob Good, and Andy Biggs and Eli Crane of Arizona — have said throughout the week that they would never vote for McCarthy.
Boebert created an opening Friday, saying, “I’m not voting for Kevin McCarthy today.”
Gaetz also wouldn’t rule out McCarthy flipping his vote.
“Hope springs eternal,” he said, citing “the work that’s been done to democratize power out of the speakership and into the membership.”
However, just hours earlier he gave a floor speech nominating Ohio Republican Jim Jordan in which he called McCarthy “the LeBron James of special interest fundraising.”
“We do not trust Mr. McCarthy with power because we know who he will use it for and we are concerned it will not be for the American people,” he said.
The other holdout, Montana Republican Matt Rosendale, also has made clear he’s no fan of McCarthy.
As some of his colleagues in the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus flipped their votes on the 12th ballot, Rosendale announced his vote for “Kevin” with a long pause before shouting “Hern,” an Oklahoma Republican several of the holdouts have supported as an alternative.
As the votes on the 12th were being tallied, McCarthy allies fanned out across the floor to try to win some additional converts, targeting Rosendale and Maryland Republican Andy Harris in particular.
The conversations with Harris appeared to work. He flipped to supporting McCarthy on the 13th ballot.
Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole had a lengthy conversation with Harris on the floor before that 13th ballot. They both serve on the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where Cole has been top Republican but is term limited out.
Cole said in a brief interview that while no decisions have been made, he needs a waiver to keep the position and “certainly” would be open to stepping aside if Appropriations Chair Kay Granger, R-Texas, requested.
Harris, who is next in line in seniority, has been interested in chairing the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations panel. He is a “great member,” Cole said. “We don’t have a smarter guy.”
The emerging agreement between the would-be speaker and holdouts who switched their votes Friday was not final.
As Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry cast his vote for McCarthy on 12th ballot he said it was a sign of “good faith” that a final deal could come together.
“I trust the framework of the agreement that we have,” Perry told reporters after that vote when asked if he trusts McCarthy.
Perry said he’d be willing to help McCarthy negotiate with the remaining holdouts.
“If there is something we can address that would alleviate their concerns that will ameliorate their concerns, we’re wanting to, desperately, to deal with that immediately so we can get past this impasse,” he said.
The tentative pact would, among other things, lock the chamber into voting on an austere budget blueprint. That includes cutting the upcoming appropriations bills back to levels set two years ago, before the recently enacted $1.7 trillion fiscal 2023 omnibus spending package.
The agreement also seems likely to affect debt ceiling negotiations that are going to dominate Capitol Hill later this year, when the Treasury runs up against its $31.4 trillion borrowing limit.
Negotiators wouldn’t say exactly what that entailed, but strongly hinted that the House wouldn’t vote on a “clean” bill to raise the debt limit.
“We believe there ought to be specific concrete limits on spending attached to a debt ceiling increase,” Chip Roy, R-Texas, one of the chief negotiators, said Friday.
Perry said earmarks in spending bills would be handled “differently” than in the past, but wouldn’t get into specifics. He and his allies previously argued to set a two-thirds vote threshold to include earmarks on the floor.
Ralph Norman, R-S.C., said earmarks aren’t specifically targeted in the emerging rules framework, but that they’d naturally need to be trimmed in order to make the balanced-budget math work.
“The only way you gonna balance the budget you must have cuts, and cuts involve everything, including earmarks,” Norman said.
In addition to “historic” changes in how Congress spends and allocates money, Perry said the framework includes measures “to finally stop the Senate from rolling us” and ensures more conservative representation on important committees.
Norman, Roy and Perry were among the 14 Republicans McCarthy won over on Friday; all received standing ovations.
Those deciding to back McCarthy on the 12th ballot include: Dan Bishop of North Carolina; Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma; Michael Cloud of Texas; Andrew Clyde of Georgia; Byron Donalds of Florida, whom others had put forward as speaker earlier this week; Paul Gosar of Arizona; Anna Paulina Luna of Florida; Mary Miller of Illinois; Andy Ogles of Tennessee; and Keith Self of Texas.
Harris joined them on the 13th ballot.
The current arrangement, if it holds, would largely impose the budget blueprint that former President Donald Trump’s budget director, Russ Vought, drafted and shopped to conservative lawmakers last year that would cut $10 trillion in projected spending over the next decade.
That includes tight caps on appropriations, cutting about $4 trillion from discretionary programs, mostly from nondefense programs though defense wouldn’t be spared, either. If spending bills for the next fiscal year were capped at fiscal 2022 levels as proposed, it would slice over $130 billion, or 8 percent, from levels in the recently enacted omnibus.
Appropriators weren’t consulted on the tentative arrangement, according to sources familiar with the talks. Steve Womack, R-Ark., a McCarthy backer and the top Republican on the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said he was concerned about that even as he predicted the negotiations would pick up as many as 13 holdouts.
Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., another top GOP appropriator, confirmed the discussions were focused on cutting spending back to fiscal 2022 levels.
“Certainly I think for those of us who believe in a strong defense, I think there’s some concerns there. But there’s still a lot of details that I think are being worked out,” Aderholt said.
Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., who’s been negotiating on behalf of McCarthy, said he didn’t believe lawmakers would ultimately be forced to comply with the austerity proposed by the conservative holdouts. “We still have our voting cards,” he said. “So, the will of the House will ultimately rule the day.”
Typically, spending limits written into the budget — whether by formal budget resolution or more informal procedures — create enforceable points of order on the floor. The Rules Committee regularly waives such points of order, but under a GOP House that may not be the case.
If a point of order is raised on the House floor on legislation that isn’t protected by the rule, and the presiding officer deems the objection valid, it would require a simple majority to sustain an appeal. That vote could conceivably see Democrats team up with enough moderate Republicans, appropriators and defense hawks, though it’s unclear how such a scenario would play out.
Vought’s plan called for $10 trillion in spending cuts over a decade coupled with $3.3 trillion in net tax cuts, including making the 2017 GOP tax law permanent and repealing clean energy tax credits. The revenue loss would be canceled out and then some by resulting economic growth, according to Vought’s forecast, an assumption that many budget purists find questionable. But the document shows, at least on paper, a path to eliminating deficits within a decade.
Budget blueprints are nonbinding, and some of Vought’s proposed cuts would be difficult to carry out, even with House GOP votes. For instance, his plan calls for cutting $4 trillion from projected health care spending over a decade, including repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law that Republicans were unable to achieve even when they had control of all three branches of government.
Social Security wouldn’t be cut specifically in Vought’s proposal. But Norman, who had been negotiating with McCarthy’s team, said “everything” is on the table.
The most effective way to implement any cuts envisioned by the budget blueprint — other than Social Security, which is exempt — is usually through the reconciliation process, which creates filibuster-proof measures that can avoid the Senate’s 60-vote hurdle. But that’s unlikely to occur with a Democratic Senate and White House.
Other conservative demands would apparently be met under the emerging framework, including a commitment to bring up the dozen spending bills individually and on time before the end of the fiscal year rather than a mammoth omnibus “sprung on us at Christmas time,” Norman said.
Given all the outstanding questions about implementing the strict spending controls, Norman said he’s looking for more details about how McCarthy plans to enforce any agreement.
“Just tell us what you’re gonna do with it. There’s nothing I would change within it,” Norman said prior to voting for McCarthy. “Now, how you find it, how you produce, how you make it happen — we want a workhorse, not a show horse.”
After the House wrapped up voting Friday afternoon, Norman explained his thinking on flipping his vote.
He said one reason was that it became clear McCarthy critics couldn’t broaden their support beyond the 20 members who’d voted for someone else previously. In addition, time is running out, Norman said.
“From our 20, we didn’t go up in numbers. In other words, it was a stalemate. And it’s not fair to the country to sit here and vote time and time again to get the same result. So it was just time,” he said. “And we got the things, I think that are transformational, to be honest with you.”
Ellyn Ferguson, David Lerman and Jim Saksa contributed to this report.